Vulnerable children in family law proceedings: professionals' approaches and children's strategies
Department of Sociology Uppsala University Uppsala, Sweden
Drawing upon a Swedish study of vulnerable children as social actors in family law proceedings this paper explores family law investigators' approaches to children, and children's strategies in encounters with these professionals as well as the investigation process as a whole. The discussion is based upon thematically structured interviews with children whose father has been violent to their mother. The different kinds of investigator approaches reconstructed from the children's narratives span from an approach enabling a high degree of participation, to one excluding the child from participation; and from an emphatic and child-oriented approach to a distant, adult-oriented one positioning the child as a "disqualified adult". Children's strategies span from accepting the way they are included- or not included - in the process to open protest and attempts to achieve a higher degree of participation. The child informants' descriptions of themselves as unwilling, unavailable, or openly protesting, tend to coincide with the position as "disqualified adult": to get neither influence over the investigation process nor care and empathy from the professionals thus seems to be the most problematic position from children's point of view. As regards children's experiences of violence these have rarely been a topic for dialogue between child and investigator. The children have mainly been approached as "protected victims", "invisible victims" or even "unprotected victims" as is the case when the children's own victimisation has become visible to investigators but they are left without protection. This sample of interviews suggests that the most challenging task for investigators in family law proceedings may be to make children's vulnerable position visible and at the same time offer them a high degree of participation, that is: the challenge is to approach children as simultaneously victims and actors.